A crunch meeting is due to be held in the coming days to decide whether minutes of meetings in which Ministers made final decisions affecting the health and livelihoods of thousands during the pandemic should be made public, following a seven-month challenge by Express.
While the Government is legally required to publish the minutes of its scientific advisers’ discussions – the meetings during which ‘Competent Authority Ministers’ (CAM) take this advice and make a final decision on whether or not to apply it have never been released to the public.
Under the law, CAM is an emergency decision-making body made up of the Chief Minister, and Ministers of Health, Home Affairs, Economic Development, External Relations and Infrastructure. The Treasury and Education Ministers are not statutory members, but were invited when the importance of their portfolios in relation to covid-19 measures became apparent.
Express made a request under the Freedom of Information Law for their meeting minutes to be made available for public scrutiny back in January, but officials concluded after four months of deliberations in April that they would not release them.
They said that this was because releasing them may compromise Ministers’ “safe space” in which to make decisions and “reveal potential disagreements on details of policy.”
Pictured: Competent Authorities Ministers.
Express argued for a review of this decision on the basis that releasing the information for scrutiny was strongly in the public interest.
Freedom of Information officials confirmed this week that a panel was due to be convened “within the next few days at which point the final internal review response will be prepared ahead of final approval" and that a final response would be due on Wednesday (14 July).
However, they did not state when this meeting would be taking place or who would be attending when asked by Express.
It follows questions raised over Ministers’ decision-making when it emerged in STAC minutes in January that CAM had failed to consult the panel of scientific and medical experts on key covid decisions including the initial guidance on festive gatherings, which was later subject to a U-turn. The lack of consultation left one STAC member questioning the group's purpose.
The documents also revealed the frustrations of the island’s top pandemic medic, Dr Ivan Muscat, and other STAC members that CAM had decided to relax travel restrictions for ‘green zone’ travellers against advice – one of the factors believed to have played a part in the sharp spike in covid cases before the New Year.
Pictured: STAC Minutes in January reflected how Ministers didn't consult the panel of medical experts on key covid decisions.
With the vaccination programme underway and few covid restrictions left, challenges to CAM’s continued need to exist as Jersey moves out of an ‘emergency’ situation have been put forward by Chief Scrutineer Senator Kristina Moore in recent weeks.
However, Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré told Express earlier this week that the group had no intention of disbanding anytime soon, and would likely only do so as the global crisis ended.
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